Newly-elected federal NDP Leader Jack Layton of Toronto (centre) speaks to delegates after winning on the first ballot at the party's convention in Toronto on Saturday January 25

Newly-elected federal NDP Leader Jack Layton of Toronto (centre) speaks to delegates after winning on the first ballot at the party's convention in Toronto on Saturday January 25

The tie that binds the NDP

This is the story of Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair and the tie that binds them together.

OTTAWA — This is the story of Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair and the tie that binds them together.

It might be titled The Brotherhood of the Travelling Necktie.

Whether a slightly frayed, orange tie will turn out to have magical powers — like those of a threadbare pair of blue jeans that bring luck and self-confidence to four young women in the popular book series, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants — remains to be seen.

But it’s already become a powerful symbol of unity for the federal NDP in the wake of a bruising seven-month leadership contest triggered by Layton’s untimely death last August.

The saga begins 15 years ago during the 1997 election, when Jamey Heath was running for the New Democrats in Ottawa Centre. A friend bought him a tie — NDP orange, naturally — to wear on the hustings.

In 2003, Heath was in charge of communications for a little-known Toronto city councillor, Jack Layton, in his bid to become national NDP leader. On the day of the leadership vote, Heath was appalled by Layton’s unfashionable choice of neckwear.

“His tie was so bad, I refused to let him wear it,” Heath recalls.

It was, according to Layton’s son, Mike, “one of the ties my grandmother had made him, years and years before.”

Heath zipped home, grabbed his classier, trendier orange tie and brought it back to the Toronto convention for Layton to wear. When Layton delivered his victory speech later that day, Heath’s vibrant Holt Renfrew tie was knotted around his neck.

“This was probably the first of the orange ties Jack became quite famous for wearing,” says Mike.

When Heath left his post as Layton’s communications director in 2006, the leader gave him back the tie as a parting gift.

Heath packed it away, along with other valued belongings, while he took an extended trip to Australia and New Zealand. The next time he wore it was as a pall bearer at Layton’s funeral last August.

After the funeral, Heath gave the tie to Mike Layton, with a note explaining its history.

“I cherished it,” Mike says. “It was very kind of him that he would think of me at that time and give over what was maybe one of his last gifts that he got from Jack.”

As it happened, Layton’s one-time Quebec lieutenant, Thomas Mulcair, was crowned NDP leader and, moments afterward, Mike sneaked backstage at the Toronto convention and passed the tie to his father’s successor.

“We thought as a family, you know what, this might be a nice keepsake to pass on to sort of make sure that the new leader knew that he has our support and that he would’ve had Jack’s support in taking the party to the next level,” says Mike.

For Mulcair, “it was a very touching moment.”